Read Heirs of the Fallen: Book 04 - Wrath of the Fallen Online

Authors: James A. West

Tags: #Epic Fantasy Adventure

Heirs of the Fallen: Book 04 - Wrath of the Fallen (5 page)

Belina struggled to her feet and swung her blade, chopping off a reaching hand. At her side, Nola screamed and reeled backward, her face awash in blood.

The Kelrens pushed forward, oblivious to their own fallen and wounded, intent only on destroying their human prey. Daggers and swords stabbed and slashed, cold steel rang against cold steel.

Rough fingers tangled in Belina’s hair, yanked her head back, and a large knife rose above her eyes. She reversed the grip on her sword and rammed it through the guts of the abomination that held her. She might well have slapped him, for all the good it did.

Her enemy’s steel sparkled with a cold light as it swooped down toward her neck. She knew death had found her. But instead of the icy burn of sharp steel cleaving her throat, a shrieking blast of light and wind ripped through her and the demon-possessed Kelren holding her. Cold fire filled her veins, and the howling sea-wolf went still as stone. All of them did. Their bones seemed to shrink and contort, the skin covering them becoming clinging husks. As the light grew brighter, heat swept in, and all at once they flew apart and scattered like dry leaves before a stiff wind.

Then all became a swirling maelstrom.

Blinded and weightless, Belina soared through the air, tumbling end over end. Rock exploded around her, the grinding of its destruction filling her skull. Her mad journey ended when she struck something unyielding, and a blessed nothing fell like a blanket over her mind....

 

 

~ ~ ~

 

 

....And now I’m here, unable to move, unable to think right, unable to help my dying sister
.

Belina blinked at the flood of tears filling her eyes. Not just for Nola, but also for Leitos, the young man she had envisioned so often while growing up, a man steeped in shadow and pain, a warrior of steel, a bringer of death.
Where is he? He’s the key to everything. If

She refused to think about what could be. He was alive. He must be, or the world would fall at last to the Faceless One’s rule, and the age of humankind would perish.

Where is he?

The memory of the battle within the Throat threatened to overwhelm her anew, but this time she refused to let it. Why had any of them come to the Throat in the first place?

“Help me!” Nola wailed.

Someone else groaned in the other direction.

Those voices were distant, as if from a dream. Belina struggled to remember why she had come to the Throat—

A misty vision of Fauthians painted a dread picture in her mind. They were the race that had persecuted her people long years, at first convincing Yatoan women to breed with Mahk’lar, and later with Alon’mahk’lar. And from those unions came abominations of Creation—Belina’s eldest sister, Zera, being one of them.

And then she remembered Adu’lin, tall and golden-skinned like all Fauthians, his fierce face long and angular, so like the carving above the entrance to the Throat of Balaam. The Fauthians had once been Yatoans, but the Faceless One had blessed them, changed them, and they became the cruel masters of their former kindred.
Adu’lin ...
he fled here, to the Faceless One, and we gave chase.

Instead of calming her, remembering only made matters worse. In her visions of Leitos, he never destroyed the Faceless One here. But
here,
she always saw was his death.

That thought momentarily cleared her mind, gave her purpose. Heart beating loudly in her ears, Belina reached for the weight on her legs, found a rough block of stone, and shoved against it. Rubble shifted, jagged edges dug into her shin. She gritted her teeth against a scream, and pushed harder. The weight rolled away, and there came a loud clatter of falling rock. With a little more painful work, she was able to crawl free.

Trembling head to toe, weak, she came out atop a field of shattered stone dotted with crushed foliage and splintered tree trunks. She turned one way and another, stunned.

Upslope, the forest had been leveled in a broad fan that originated at the base of a cliff. Where the blue light of the Throat of Balaam should have been, now there was a crooked little cleft scarcely wider and taller than a man. The graven face that had glared so sternly upon anyone who dared enter the domain of the Faceless One had been destroyed by whatever force had thrown Belina down the mountain.

“Belina?” Nola cried. “Father? Please ... someone ... help me.” Gone was her usual ferocity. She had become a little girl, abandoned and hurting.

Belina stumbled down off a strew of rubble, every step sending bolts of silvery pain through her limbs and chest. Her snug leggings and tunic had been shredded. Blood wept from the abraded skin beneath. She tried to grasp how they could have survived such absolute destruction, when she had seen others perish after suffering much less.

When she was a girl, a man of her clan, Creytus, drunk on fermented melon juice, had been recounting a story of a boar hunt. Making a grand gesture, he tumbled off his perch and bumped his head against a rock. Everyone had laughed, Belina too, but Creytus didn’t get up. Damoc rushed to his side and rolled him over, revealing a small, bloodless bump on his temple. Creytus died, never to wake or finish his tale. Shaking fingers told Belina she had received worse wounds, yet she lived.

“Help me,” Nola gasped, pulling Belina away from the memory.

Cursing the fog filling her skull, Belina staggered over the treacherous debris. More than once a loose rock shifted, upsetting her balance. Over and over again, she fell, got up, and fell again. Her laboring heart brought a nauseating thudding to her head. Her lungs hurt as if she had inhaled too much campfire smoke. Coughing made it worse.

As Belina got closer to Nola, she slowed, picking her way carefully, lest she kick loose a rock and crush her sister. “I’m almost there,” Belina gasped.

“Hurry!”

Belina was crawling on her belly by the time she reached Nola, wincing every time the stones shifted. She saw Nola’s out flung hand first, the nails black with dried blood, the skin broken, torn.

“Help me.”

“Be still,” Belina soothed.

She reached for Nola’s hand, lightly grasped her fingers. With surprising strength, Nola bore down.

Belina edged closer. Nola was pinned under a slab of rock and a litter of tree branches. An involuntary breath of dismay burst from Belina’s lips. Nola’s face was savaged, her stern beauty replaced by a gruesome mask of blood and dirt. One green eye rolled, wide and wet with tears, its normal aggressive light gone to terror. When that eye found Belina, it searched her face.

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Nola asked, voicing Belina’s deepest fears.

“No, baby sister,” Belina said, tears dampening her cheeks. “It’s not so bad. A few scrapes and bruises, is all. Just lie still. Rest, and I’ll get you free.”

“I can’t feel my legs,” Nola whimpered.

“Be still,” Belina said again.

Belina began working frantically, first tossing smaller stones away, then grunting as she heaved against the weight of the larger ones. Nola screamed more than once when a displaced rock crunched against some part of her. Each time she did, Belina winced. But she did not slow or stop. She had to get Nola free.

After clearing off most of the rubble, Belina paused, her fingertips raw and trembling. A last chunk of rock lay across Nola’s torso. The edge of another stone lodged underneath the first, its surface webbed with cracks, was all that kept the larger slab from crushing the life from Nola. To move either unaided would bring disaster.

“Hurry,” Nola cried, chest hitching. Fresh blood leaked from the grisly wound on her face. Belina saw the battle again, her sister reeling away from a sword stroke. The blow had ruined half her face, and stolen one of her eyes.

“I ... I can’t move it,” Belina said. “If I do, the larger rock will smash you.”

“Get it off!” Nola shrieked, and immediately fell to coughing.

Belina stood up, remembering the other voice she had heard earlier. Maybe there was someone else who could help. Their father Damoc, maybe Sumahn or Daris.

“Don’t go,” Nola moaned, guessing Belina’s intent.

“I have to get help,” Belina said, taking a step back.

“No! Stay with me!”

Belina wheeled and raced clumsily over the treacherous jumble. Nola begged her to come back, but Belina kept on.

Everything looked the same, a tangle of broken chaos. There had to be something, some sign of another survivor.

Soon she found a splash of blood, the outline vaguely shaped like a handprint. When she reached the spot, she peeked over the jutting edge of a large rock and found Damoc, his legs pinned, but the rest of him free. Like her, his clothing was tattered and coated in blood and dust.

“Belina!” Sweat beaded on Damoc’s brow, ran freely down his face, but he seemed hale enough. “Gods good and wise, I thought you were—” he cut off. “Help me get loose.”

“Nola is trapped,” Belina said, scrambling down to her father.

“I heard her crying. Is she...?”

Belina flung a rock aside. “She’s hurt.” Telling him his daughter had lost an eye, or that she might be crushed beyond saving, served no purpose.

By the time Belina finished moving what rubble she could, she discovered that Damoc was just as trapped as Nola. One foot was lodged between two rocks, with another laying over the top of them.

“Get that stick,” Damoc said, pointing at the broken end of a tree branch. “Use it to pry me free.”

Belina didn’t waste a moment. After fetching the branch, she eased it up under the heavy block, then braced her shoulder against the wood. “This may hurt,” she warned.

Damoc chuckled darkly. “It already hurts, girl. Now heave the damned thing off me!”

Belina swallowed, her throat dry as dust. Once she started lifting, no matter which way the rock slid, she would not be able to reverse course. She imagined it grinding his foot to a pulp, swallowed again, and lifted.

Stone grated loudly, and Damoc arched his back. “Push, girl! For your sister, push!”

When he started screaming, his face going gray as ash, Belina stopped. Teeth gritted, Damoc wrapped his fingers around her ankle. “Just a bit more, girl. Just a bit—”

Belina threw her weight against the creaking branch and straightened her legs. Damoc gave one more straining cry before the rock toppled free and rolled down the slope. Belina knelt, shaking fingers dancing in the air above his wounds.

“Not as bad as it looks,” Damoc assured her. Belina had doubts. The flesh around his shin and ankle looked as if it had been mauled by an angry boar. “Get me up, so we can help your sister.”

Belina put the tree branch into Damoc’s hand. “Lean your weight on it,” she advised.

He stood upright and looked around. “If this is a picture of victory, I’d hate to see one of defeat.”

Belina wrapped his other arm around her neck. “We can tally successes and failures later.”

Damoc bobbed his head, sweat mingling with blood on his brow. “To your sister.
Hurry
.”

As fast as their stumbling allowed, they made their way back to Nola, who had gone silent. When they reached the girl, her remaining eye was closed. Flies were gathering, as if catching the scent of death.

Damoc moaned low in his throat, but a look of determination lit his gaze. “I’ll not lose another of my girls,” he said fiercely.

Together they moved to the slab pinning Nola, and sought good places to catch hold. At Damoc’s nod, they lifted and pushed. The rock moved a fraction, a bit more, then fell back. Nola didn’t stir.

Feeling sick, Belina held a hand near Nola’s parted lips. Faint, erratic breaths wafted over her fingers.

“She’s alive,” Belina said in answer to Damoc’s stricken expression. “But if we don’t get more help, we’ll never get her loose.”

“Seems you need a pair of heroes,” came a rasping voice.

Belina and Damoc looked up with a startled gasps. Daris smiled down at them, one of his eyes shot through with red, his short hair damp with sweat and splotchy gray with dust. Sumahn looked no better, but his features lacked his companion’s weary amusement. Before Belina could ask, the pair joined her and Damoc.

As they took their places, she noticed the way Sumahn was looking at Nola. Although the two had only met a few hours before, she saw more than idle concern painting his face.

“Ready?” Daris asked, then coughed and spat a wad of mud.

Now I know why my chest hurts
, Belina thought, before turning her attention back to Nola.

She still hadn’t moved, and her coloring seemed paler.

“Now!” Damoc said, and the foursome shoved, feet scraping and sliding. The rock lifted with a grinding sound that set Belina’s teeth on edge. For a terrifying moment, its great weight resisted them. They shoved harder, and it tumbled free.

When they turned back, they found Nola’s tunic had been torn off, leaving her torso bare. Belina wished it had not been so, but not because of any sense of decency. Flaps of skin hung from her chest in quivering strips. Other places had gone purple and black with terrible bruises. Damoc and Daris groaned in unison at the sight of such dreadful wounds, but Belina could not so much as breathe.

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